UK music-swapping service bites at Napster's heels

Wippit, the UK's legal alternative to Napster, insists it is all set to launch by this autumn

British start-up Wippit insisted on Friday that it is close to launching a legal MP3 file-sharing service.

Rubbishing suggestions that the company was having problems, chief executive Paul Myers told ZDNet News that Wippit would launch within a couple of months. "We're all ready to go, and you can expect to see an announcement from us in the next few weeks," Myers said.

Wippit is working on a Napster-style product that will let users download MP3 files legally. Users will pay a fee, and Wippit will pay royalties to the record labels -- thus avoiding the legal problems that have affected services such as Napster, Aimster and Scour. According to Myers, annual membership of Wippit will cost UK users £50 per year.

There had been suggestions that Wippit would find it difficult to make deals with record labels, but Myers insisted that his company was close to announcing some major agreements. "Discussions with the record industry have been very successful," Myers said. "We're going to announce all the deals in one go very soon, and there will be many companies involved," he added.

The music industry was slow to react to the potential of the Internet, leaving a gap in the market that was filled by independent peer-to-peer services such as Napster and Gnutella. Recently, however, they have announced a number of new initiatives such as MusicNet -- a music subscription service jointly created by RealNetworks, Warner Music Group, Bertelsmann and EMI Recorded Music.

Despite the plethora of competitors, Myers is still bullish about Wippit's chances. Our projections suggest we will attract 645,000 users in the first year. At its peak, Napster had over 1.5 million users in one month, but recent figures showed it was down to around 120,000.

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